Monday, June 20, 2022

Cybercrime Has Gone Prime Time!

If it feels like everywhere you turn there is news of another cybercrime story, your hunch is probably true. The average ransomware paid jumped up 478% between 2020 and 2021, according to the Sophos 2022 Threat Report. 

Government entities are often targets of cyberattacks, with 58% of local and state governments hit by some form of ransomware in 2021. Ransomware has become its own industry, where bad actors specialize in stealing passwords and then turn around and broker them for a profit. 

The best defense for a city is to go back to the three fundamental components of security: people, processes, and technology. Here are a few suggestions to help prevent cybercrime within your city departments:

  • Help city employees understand phishing and have a set process so they know how to alert others if something looks suspicious. 
  • Encourage and educate employees about strong passwords. 
  • Incorporate processes for additional layers of security like multi-factor authentication. This method uses a password and something else in combination to allow access. For example, a password and a code sent via text or phone call to validate the login. 
  • Evaluate your city’s technology for simplicity. The more complex the technology, the more difficult it is to keep secure. 
  • Look at your most critical systems or data and focus on protecting those assets first.

For more information about cybercrime and what your city can do, check out the educational session “The Hackers are Coming — Are You Prepared?” at the League of Minnesota Cities 2022 Annual Conference. Can't come to Duluth? Check out the cybersecurity resource page or check out the Cybersecurity for Clerks MemberLearn course both available any time, any place.

Monday, May 2, 2022

Thank You, City Clerks! Municipal Clerks Week 2022

 May 1-7 is Professional Municipal Clerks Week! Being a city clerk is a truly unique role in a city that attracts tough but kind problem-solvers. Many clerks demonstrate a commitment to learning — from finance to working with the public, the skills required are broad. And while every clerk has their own style, a keen eye and a good dose of patience are usually part of the mix too.

We've been thinking a lot about city careers over here: how cities can attract great people to local gov professions, how city teams can ensure you feel valued and have what you need once you're hired, and how cities can make sure that skilled people want to stay in your careers once you hit your stride.

We know you're all asking the same questions, and in many cases taking meaningful action to ensure city workplaces are great workplaces.

 — That doesn't always make the work any easier though, and that's where things like feeling valued, expressing gratitude, and saying thank you can make all the difference. 

So, to each and every clerk who shows up and dedicates yourself each day to doing your best and representing your city with integrity, all of us here at the League say a huge THANK YOU. Your perseverance over the past few years in particular is something that we see and appreciate not just this week, but every week.

We sincerely hope that the variety, the people, the opportunities to learn something new every day, and contributing to good things in your community more than make up for those days when it all gets to be a bit much. And on those days when you need a boost, remember we're here to help however we can, because you're making a difference every day, and we like your style.

Monday, February 14, 2022

LMC at the National League of Cities Municipal League Fly-In

At least it's not snow.
You may have seen that Executive Director Dave Unmacht and Board President D. Love were recently in Washington D.C. attending the National League of Cities (NLC) Municipal League Fly-In.

The fly-in is a chance for municipal league leaders to learn from each other and strategize on their federal policy, as well as an opportunity for these leaders to check in with their congressional delegation — Dave and D. were able to meet with Sen. Tina Smith and Rep. Tom Emmer while they were on the ground in D.C.

You can view the League of Minnesota Cities’ federal priorities here: LMC Federal Issue Highlights and Fact Sheet (pdf) 

Attendees also heard from top federal officials with the White House Intergovernmental Relations team including former New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, senior advisor and infrastructure coordinator; and Gabe Amo, special assistant to the president and deputy director of the Office of Intergovernmental Affairs.

The municipal league crew also heard speakers representing departments that work on important local government topics such as telecommunications, transportation, and environmental protection. 

We sat down with Dave, and D. and asked a few questions to learn more about the fly-in: 

LMC Executive Director Dave Unmacht,
Senator Tina Smith, and LMC Board
President D. Love (left to right)
City Spot: So how was the trip?
Unmacht: The 2022 fly-in was designed to be intensive and interactive with federal agency officials, and it delivered.  D.C. was cool and rainy during our visit, but we were well prepared; in Washington, unlike Minnesota, if the rain was snow, the city would have shut down. Thankfully it was only rain and we got our business completed.  

LMC President D. Love, Rep. Tom Emmer,
LMC Executive Director Dave Unmacht (left to right)

Love: The fly-in was extremely valuable. We received information and heard about the vision and goals directly from the individuals working on the initiatives that have impacted our cities, and who have the potential to do so in the future.

City Spot: Can you share a highlight?

Unmacht: We heard repeatedly how important the voices of local government are in creating rules and establishing program guidelines. The League of Minnesota Cities has a voice at the table, and through the efforts of our city officials, League staff and board are well positioned to provide top federal officials with feedback and information about what is important to Minnesota cities.  

City Spot: Were there any themes among the different leagues in regard to federal policy?
Love: Other league leaders are also focused on helping small cities access the resources available to them. In unison, we were able to share the importance of that message.  

Unmacht: Yes, President D. Love expressed his strong support to help small cities navigate the maze of federal rules and encouraged agency and White House officials to keep cities of all size in mind when formulating programs. This point was echoed by many state leagues in attendance.   

City Spot: What's next?
Love: Minnesota city officials, including a few League board members as well as League staff, will return to Washington D.C. in mid-March for the National League of Cities Congressional Conference. This event is more tailored toward city delegations, as opposed to the fly-in for municipal leagues. At this event we will continue meeting with our federal delegation to speak on behalf of all cities in our state. 

Learn more about the League's federal relations


Monday, December 20, 2021

‘We Will Be a Force for Good’ — New Year’s Optimism From LMC Board President D. Love

A message from D. Love, LMC president and mayor of Centerville

As we entered 2021, it promised to be a year of great hope! We were thankful we survived 2020 and we had optimism that normalcy was right around the corner. With great resiliency, city officials vowed to move ahead with focus and dedication.

Now as we enter the last few weeks of 2021, we are able to look back with great pride when considering the obstacles we faced and the level of accomplishment achieved as we worked to be innovative, provide service, and build community.

I’m incredibly humbled and honored to represent the citizens of Centerville and to serve in the role of League of Minnesota Cities president. I’m fortunate to serve with board members from the League Board as well as the Insurance Trust Board who are incredibly dedicated, passionate, and truly care for the well-being of cities. True to form, in 2021 the League delivered with innovative training, thoughtful conferences, timely information, driven legislative support, and many visits to every part of the state. No matter the opportunity or challenge, city officials knew that the League would be by their side.

In a family photo, LMC President D. Love is joined
by his wife Susan; son, Payton; new daughter,
Danielle; daughter, Olivia; and son, D. J.
I’m optimistic about the opportunities that lay before us in 2022 and that we will be a force for good. We will combat incivility with positivity. We have a chance to inspire the leaders of tomorrow as well as improve the lives of those less fortunate while striving to be the best in the moment!

I’m grateful for the tremendous support I have received. I’m grateful for my wife and family. I’m grateful for the strength we have in our unity.

We are Stronger Together.

Happy Holidays,

D. Love
Mayor of the City of Centerville
2021-2022 League of Minnesota Cities President

Friday, December 3, 2021

Housing Is Local: Do the Math — Preemption Arguments Are Based on Incomplete Research (post #2 of 2)

This is Post #2 of a series. Read Post #1 "Undermining local authority is not a solution" here

For several months now, a trade association representing private builders and developers – with the help of a group of state legislators – has promoted state legislation that would undermine city authority to administer development fees that cover costs for city expenses and zoning regulations in their own communities. Supporters contend that these proposals would accelerate the building of affordable housing in the Twin Cities metro area. They also attempt to link city zoning policy to long-standing racial disparities in homeownership in our state. 

A row of homes under construction
Cities acknowledge that racial disparities exist and want to address ways to mitigate those disparities. Cities also are working to address affordable housing needs in our communities. 

It is critically important, though, that cities maintain local authority to respond to community-specific housing needs and support the construction and preservation of housing stock across the housing spectrum in order for a city to support the diverse needs of its residents. State preemption promoted by for-profit developers is not a solution and will only hinder local efforts to support housing issues in their communities.

Research unpacked

To help bolster their case for preemption, the group known as Housing First and legislators who seek state mandates point to research highlighted in a Star Tribune story published this past summer. The story presented data and statistics on zoning and its relationship to racial disparities in homeownership.  

However, there are issues with the Star Tribune’s research that cast doubt on some of its conclusions. For example, the Star Tribune created a “rural residential” zoning classification that was characterized as “residential.” At first glance, there doesn’t seem to be any issue with this. However, “rural residential” is described as zoning districts that only allow single-family detached homes but have minimum lot size requirements exceeding five acres. 

Upon closer examination, our own League research found an overwhelming majority of the zoning districts with this designation are zoned for agricultural purposes or future development. It makes sense that the lots would be larger in nature. Very few of these “rural residential” categories actually included single-family detached homes, but were nevertheless included in the reported statistics for the percentage of the Metro that is residential and also single-family zoning.  

NOTE: The Star Tribune collected zoning ordinances in 2019. The League re-examined the "rural residential" zoning ordinances in 2021, so there may be differences based on time. However, zoning districts in 2021 would be modified to be more specific, not less.

What does this all mean?

The League took a closer look at the data provided by the Star Tribune and found that if you don’t include farmland or land zoned for future development, 43% of the land in the Metro area allows for a residential structure to be built on less than or equal to a ¼ acre.  

Here’s how the formula works:

  • Percentage from city_zoning_sizes.csv = (Mixed + Only Detached + Two Family + PUD-R + MF Residential, Minimum lot size per unit ≤ 1/4 acre)/(Mixed + Only Detached + Two Family + PUD-R + MF Residential)

If farmland or land zoned for future development is not included, 31% of the land in the Metro area is zoned to allow only single-family, detached homes to be built on less than or equal to ¼ acre.

  • Percentage from city_zoning_sizes.csv = (Only Detached, Minimum lot size per unit ≤ 1/4 acre)/(Mixed + Only Detached + Two Family + PUD-R + MF Residential)

But how many cities allow for homes to be built on less than ¼ acre? The numbers show that 84% (86 cities out of 102 Metro-area cities) have at least one zoning district that allows a residential property to be built on ¼ acre lot or less. 60% (62 of these cities) allow for single-family, detached homes and other residential structures on 1/5 acre lot or less.

Image of the dome of the Minnesota Capitol building and the four golden horses of the Quadriga statue against a blue sky.
Housing First and some legislators have for years pushed to undermine local planning and zoning authority. And now they’re drawing on the Star Tribune's incomplete analysis to push legislation that would undermine local decision-makers across the entire state.

Comprehensive solutions support local efforts

As the 2022 legislative session approaches, the League will work with stakeholders to advance a more comprehensive solution for housing in Minnesota that seeks to support local efforts rather than hinder them. We will continue to oppose measures, however, that undermine local control under the guise that it improves housing affordability. Housing development is a local matter. 

View Housing Needs in Cities: State Policy Solutions That Work 

View the League's other housing and development resources

As this topic continues to unfold in the state legislature, watch this blog and the Cities Bulletin for additional updates.

Housing Is Local: Undermining Local Authority Is Not a Solution (post #1 of 2)

This is Post #1 of a series. Read Post #2 "Do the Math — Preemption Arguments Are Based on Incomplete Research" here

 Minnesota cities often have strong partnerships with residential developers when it comes to supplying housing that fits community needs. Over the past few years, that partnership has been strained by a trade association that continues to blame cities for a scarcity of more affordable housing in cities across the state.

First, some context …

The trade association, Housing First Minnesota, formed an advocacy organization in 2018 called the Housing Affordability Institute (formerly known as their Legal Defense Fund) that has compiled and distributed flawed reports omitting key data points and overstating the impact of city requirements and development fees on housing costs. Those reports are contributing to confused dialogue and misinformed legislative action designed to preempt local control over city planning and zoning decisions and development-related fees.

Yellow tape marks off the corner of a dirt lot. A new twin home is complete across the street.

For example, Housing First reported that cities are the highest driver of home costs claiming that one-third of a new home’s price is due to regulations and policies. However, city analysis shows that only 3%-7% of the cost of a new home can be attributed to city fees that are collected to support critical infrastructure and to ensure a home is built safe and built to last. Indeed, the trade association’s own analysis shows the highest cost drivers are labor and materials at 48-55% of a home’s price, not local government fees and regulations. Furthermore, according to their own research, 20%-23% of home costs are due to builder profits and administrative costs.

Misleading and missing information

Consistent with the paper’s misleading analysis, one of its home comparison case studies even included the cost for a private pool as a “park and green space fee/other open space” fee. This pool was 58% of the “green space fees” the city supposedly required in that example. 

While cities are only collecting 3%-7% for city development-related fees, Housing First accuses Minnesota cities of making money on these fees. The reality is from 2009 through 2018, cities statewide lost $244 million in their collection of development and building permit fees. Housing First examined a shorter timeframe and only looked at one category of fees and expenses (building permits) instead of all reported fees and expenses – despite having access to the same information as League researchers. Housing First is using that omission to advance an incorrect narrative. 

There are numerous other errors and inaccuracies to note. Taken together, we can conclude that city regulations are not the largest drivers of housing costs: instead labor, materials, and land are.

Recent zoning discussions
A red-lettered "for sale" sign on a white wooden post outside a home.

Fast forward to this past summer, the Star Tribune published an article about today’s zoning and drew comparisons to the historic and harmful practice of redlining used to discriminate against people of color and low-income populations. The Star Tribune research has provided helpful data to dive deep into conversations on housing, but the League has analyzed this data and found necessary information is missing from this conversation (see the next post in this two-post series for details). Despite these issues, the Star Tribune and Housing First reports continue to be publicly referenced by those supporting preemption measures affecting current city zoning authority.

Motivated by service, not profit

Cities know there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach that effectively addresses housing needs in our state. 

Development fees are necessary to cover the city’s costs related to the review, approval, and inspection of the development. Those costs include significant time of many highly trained municipal professionals, including those working in the areas of administration, planning, community development, engineering, and fire prevention among others.

Unlike private developers, cities are motivated by service goals to ensure the health, safety, and welfare of their residents — not financial profits. The safety and well-being of residents are top priorities. Cities work with developers to ensure improvements like new streets, sidewalks, trails, sewer, water lines, and stormwater systems are safe and in good working condition, and the development project is consistent with the standards of existing properties.

In addition to ensuring homes are built right and critical infrastructure is in place to support residential development, city zoning regulates the kinds of uses a property may be used for — typically residential, commercial, industrial, and agricultural uses. This prevents overlapping incompatible uses, like having a home next door to a factory. Zoning decisions are best made by city officials and the residents who elect them.

What works: actual comprehensive solutions

The League of Minnesota Cities will continue working with cities to:

 1. Address the full housing spectrum.

2. Support local housing innovations.

3. Utilize incentives instead of mandates.

4. Partner with the state to create community-specific solutions throughout Minnesota. 

The League will also continue to oppose one-size-fits-all legislative proposals that would expand developer profits without effectively addressing the issue of housing.

View Housing Needs in Cities: State Policy Solutions That Work

View the League's other housing and development resources

Next in series: A closer look at the Star Tribune analysis

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Gratitude for Our Unique Minnesota Cities

It's the season for gratitude and reflection, and to help share that spirit we asked members of the League of Minnesota Cities Board of Directors and the League of Minnesota Cities Insurance Trust Board of Trustees to share something unique in their city that they are grateful for. They didn't disappoint! In turn we are grateful for their service to all Minnesota cities. Their thoughtful responses offer just a peek of all the good things happening in cities across the state! 

Here's what they had to say ...

Fox 9's Town Ball Tour in Sartell on June 29, 2021
Community Buzz Under the Bright Lights

I am grateful that our two Sartell amateur baseball teams were featured on Fox 9’s Town Ball Tour this past summer! St. Cloud Orthopedics Field was full of buzz on June 29 as Fox 9 came to town. 

It was an amazing day full of interviews with local residents discussing the history of the baseball field, the rivalry of the two baseball teams — Sartell Muskies and Sartell Stone Poneys, unique businesses within our city, and the sense of community that baseball brings to Sartell. The night started out with a Youth Baseball Clinic organized by the two amateur teams where they played games and ran drills with 125 youth. Mayor Ryan Fitzthum threw out the first pitch, and 1,000 people packed the stands. Fox 9 gave our community an experience of a lifetime and it was truly inspiring to look out into the crowd and see people from all ages come together to watch America’s past time. This was a display of what community is all about!

Submitted by Anna Gruber
Sartell City Administrator

D. Love, Centerville Mayor
From Parks to Public Safety, A Spirit of Collaboration

I’m so proud of my city and it’s spirit of collaboration. We work with other cities to provide a unique response to public safety. We share our police department with two other cities. We share our fire department with another city, while working with another department to secure our administrative and chief needs. We asked our citizens to get involved, and we recently celebrated over 150 volunteers who gave time to clean parks, plant gardens, plan and work events, serve on boards and give back to their community. Finally, we are working with our local high school to start a junior council member program. These collaborative efforts display what the City of Centerville is all about as we proudly stand “Stronger Together”!

Submitted by D. Love
Centerville Mayor

 A Strong Foundation for the Future
Melanie Mesko Lee,
Burnsville City Manager

I am grateful for our brand: “You Belong Here.” This was adopted in 2019 and to me it represents how we approach our work for and with our community. 

Since then, we have built on a strong foundation and have leaned into how we can value the differences that make a difference. Whether resident, business owner, or employee – we are focused on how we can collaborate to bring the best Burnsville forward. 

I am proud to be part of an organization that understands our diversity is a strength and is committed to making policy and organizational decisions with that lens.

Submitted by Melanie Mesko Lee
Burnsville City Manager

Candy Petersen, North St. Paul
Council Member
Community Support, Community Service

I am grateful for our awesome volunteers!

These volunteers are just ordinary residents that step up when there is a need or any opportunity to volunteer! We have a successful toy shelf and food shelf that demands many volunteers. 

We are North St. Paul Pride!

Submitted by Candy Petersen
North St. Paul Council Member





A Menu of Hospitality
Amy Brendmoen, Saint Paul Council Member

Saint Paul is a center for world class restaurants and for this I am very grateful. When people ask, “Do you have a suggestion where to go out for a great meal?” I usually offer back four or five options, and that’s after we have narrowed it down a bit. Authentic French? Thai? Mexican? Laotian? Jamaican? Ethiopian? German? Check, check, check! Elegant service and perfect steak? Check. Sloppy ribs and a tasty brew? Check. Steamy bowl of Pho’ and a tall iced water? Got that, too. No matter what you are looking for, there are great options to scratch the itch. 

Submitted by Amy Brendmoen
Saint Paul Council Member

Dave Callister, Plymouth City Manager
Reinvented Veterans Breakfast Receives Rave Reviews

Despite its challenges, the pandemic gave us the opportunity to reinvent some of our recreation offerings. One program that became even better was the annual recognition event for veterans – now a drive-thru breakfast near the Plymouth Veterans Memorial. The event has received glowing reviews from residents.

Plymouth veterans are honored with breakfast, letters of appreciation, and a small gift during the event, and city staff hold up signs to thank them for their service. Plymouth public safety staff also deliver breakfast to veterans in senior living communities who aren’t able to make it to the event. 

"To say that I was blown away by the veterans’ recognition that you folks put on this morning would be an understatement!" wrote Plymouth resident and veteran Gerry Gries in an email to city staff. "It was fantastic – you folks honored us as if we had just come home from active duty. The contents in the gift bag brought tears to my eyes as I thought of my five brothers. In short – thank you and your staff from the bottom of my heart!"

Submitted by Dave Callister
Plymouth City Manager